Indiana, 1817. The entire nation, only 40 years old and a few years removed from a second war of independence, is raw. Men, women, and children alike must battle nature and disease to survive in remote log cabins. This is young Abraham Lincoln's world. Spanning three years of the future president's childhood, The Better Angels explores his family, the hardships that shaped him, the tragedy that marked him forever, and the two women who guided him to immortality.Written by
The Better Angels, a 2014 Lincoln drama directed by AJ Edwards followed Abraham Lincoln as a boy (played by Brayden Denney) and his experiences living from the land. We see Lincoln going through the trials of his youth alongside his dad, Tom Lincoln (played by Jason Clarke) and siblings. Considering how tragic Lincoln's youth was, the film did not make me feel much for any of the characters.
By the end of the movie I felt as if I could have been watching any boy from that time period. But speaking of time period, it is one thing I loved about the film. The time and place (Indiana, 1817) felt authentic and I liked that I was able to observe what life was like back then. The crude and realistic production design and the plain costume design were both fitting to the time. The black and white color palette also helped to convey the simplicity of the period.
To characterize the boy as Lincoln, there were lines about him reading books, and scenes of him wrestling, but the core of his childhood was his relationship with his mother and step-mother which I felt were underdeveloped in the film or did not feel as essential as they were in real life. I did enjoy watching the father-son relationship in the film. There was tension between the two in real life, as Tom Lincoln seemed more fond of his step son than his real son. But, as the movie went forward, there was a warm side of Tom Lincoln on display which I enjoyed. Specifically, when he tells Abraham that he'll be twice the man he was, it was heartwarming and revealed a less one sided approach to their relationship.
The cinematography was not bad by any means but I do wish that the cinematographer would have calmed down a bit. Almost every scene had continuous camera movement that didn't always seem motivated by anything and it drew attention to itself. This over complication of movement seemed to be an overcompensation for the slow pace and lack of substance throughout the film.
Overall, The Better Angels had some beautiful shots and started to peel away at Lincoln's childhood. However, it was overly pretentious and unfocused, which led to it feeling more like a seedling of a movie than the fully developed, blossomed film it could have been.
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